There is No Place God-Free

Dore’s Illustration for Dante’s Paradisio

JMJ

Advent means meditation on the Four Last Things: Death, Judgement, Heaven, and Hell; and the longer I thought about it, I realized that my usual image was too static. The catechism says that it is separation from God (¶1033) but the church also says that God is Omnipresent .

The Psalmist asks,

Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy face? If I ascend into heaven, thou art there: if I descend into hell, thou art present. If I take my wings early in the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea: Even there also shall thy hand lead me: and thy right hand shall hold me.

Quo ibo a spiritu tuo? et quo a facie tua fugiam?
Si ascendero in caelum, tu illic es; si descendero in infernum, ades.
Si sumpsero pennas meas diluculo, et habitavero in extremis maris,
etenim illuc manus tua deducet me, et tenebit me dextera tua.

Ps 138:7-10

Where to go? No where. There is nowhere where God is not.

So how to understand the Catechism saying hell is separation from God? Even on earth, we can’t be separated: we can only ignore.

What I began to imaging was God, the Consuming Fire, as a massive solar wind. When you die, we think of it as “going to a place” but what really happens is that this place is simply stripped away: all the things that we feel block us from God fall away. And there we are: angels, the beloved, demons, God. All revealed as who they are. (CS Lewis gets this in Chapter 31 of The Screwtape Letters, but I think his image is static as well.) What now, oh creature of earth, Son of Adam, Daughter of Eve?

I want to hope, I want to pray that I may hope, when I’m exposed that way that I want to rush forward into the maelstrom of God’s burning, all-consuming Love. I hope, or rather I think I might, one day, be able to intend to hope, that I will drop everything and turn to Him, and let all that is not His burn away: that I will not hold back anything that will, in that hottest of all fires, suddenly begin to burn me as well. Certainly I could turn my back, shield whatever it is from His flame, but then I would discover He is omnipresent, omnidirectional, there is no back.

These flames are not fire as we might understand it, of course. This is Love: pure, unadulterated, unfiltered, omnidirectional, all-consuming, Love. We say we want it: but in the end, do we? We hide ourselves from ourselves. We do not want to acknowledge our darkest secrets even in the silent cloister of the confessional. We dare not admit the things that hide us from God, or the things we want to hide. We say we want love but we are not worthy of it.

Faith here is different from presumption. The latter says, “I’m a mess, but God loves me so I will bring my mess right into Church, right into heaven. I can make my mess a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving and God will welcome it. God will bless my mess anyway.” Faith says, “I’m a mess: I will offer my mess in praise and thanksgiving, and God will take it away and transubstantiate it. It will become my salvation because it is no longer mine. I’m not worthy of anything but I will offer it and let God decide in his mercy.”

Presumption will lead to hell. Faith will lead to heaven. And they are both the same, only the direction of motion is different.

Filling All Things with Light

JMJ

The Readings for Solemnity of the Ascension (B2)

Propter quod dicit : Ascendens in altum, captivam duxit captivitatem : dedit dona hominibus. Quod autem ascendit, quid est, nisi quia et descendit primum in inferiores partes terrae? Qui descendit, ipse est et qui ascendit super omnes caelos, ut impleret omnia.
Wherefore he saith: Ascending on high, he led captivity captive; he gave gifts to men. Now that he ascended, what is it, but because he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.

This is how the Byzantine rite praises Christ at Easter: 

In the tomb with the body 
and in Hades with the soul, 
in Paradise with the thief and 
on the throne with the Father and the Spirit, 
were You, O boundless Christ 

filling all things.

Today’s feast raises Christ again, from Earth to Heaven – and now with us as well. From this morning’s Matins in the EF, a Sermon from Pope St Leo the Great:

After the blessed and glorious Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, wherein the Divine Power raised up in three days the true Temple of God which, in their impiety the Leaders of the peoples of Israel and Rome had destroyed (namely the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ), God was pleased to ordain, by His Most Sacred Will, and in His Providence for our instruction and the profit of our souls, a season of forty days which season, dearly beloved brethren, doth end on this day. During that season the bodily Presence of the Lord still lingered on earth, that the reality of the fact of His having risen again from the dead might be armed with all needful proofs. The death of Christ had troubled the hearts of many of His disciples their thoughts were sad when they remembered His agony upon the Cross, His giving up of the Ghost, and the laying in the grave of His lifeless Body, and a sort of hesitation had begun to weigh on them.

Hence the most blessed Apostles and all the disciples, who had been fearful at the finishing on the Cross, and doubtful of the trustworthiness of the rising again, were so strengthened by the clear demonstration of the fact, that, when they saw the Lord going up into the height of heaven, they sorrowed not, nay they were even filled with great joy And, in all verity, it was a great an unspeakable cause for joy to see the Manhood, in the presence of that the multitude of believers, exalted above all creatures even heavenly, rising above the ranks of the angelic armies and speeding Its glorious way where the most noble of the Archangels lie far behind, to rest no lower than that place where high above all principality and power, It taketh Its seat at the right hand of the Eternal Father, Sharer of His throne, and Partaker of His glory, and still of the very man’s nature which the Son hath taken upon Him.

Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us also rejoice with worthy joy, for the Ascension of Christ is exaltation for us, and whither the glory of the Head of the Church is passed in, thither is the hope of the body of the Church called on to follow. Let us rejoice with exceeding great joy, and give God glad thanks. This day is not only the possession of Paradise made sure unto us, but in the Person of our Head we are actually begun to enter into the heavenly mansions above. Through the unspeakable goodness of Christ we have gained more than ever we lost by the envy of the devil. We, whom our venomous enemy thrust from our first happy home, we, being made of one body with the Son of God, have by Him been given a place at the right hand of the Father with Whom He liveth and reigneth, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.




– Emphasis added. This is how important Our Lord’s Ascension is: it is the Crown of our Salvation. For now, not only are we saved from our sins and ransomed from death, but are we also welcomed to Heaven, raised higher than even the angels and united to the Godhead in the person of the Christ; who is of one substance with the Father and with us. 

A family like yours or mine…


JMJ

The Readings for TuesdayToday is  in the 5th Week of Easter (B2)
St Joseph the Worker

Quoniam per multas tribulationes oportet nos intrare in regnum Dei. 
Through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God. 

Today is the Memorial of St Joseph the Worker. I think Joseph knew tribulations: there was the mystery of his not-yet-wife who was with child, the trip to Bethlehem that became a three year sojourn in Egypt, Herod’s soldiers, snoopy neighbors, and a business to run.

Today’s feast is one of the most powerful reminders that the Holy Family was a normal, every-day family. Filled with the presence of God and the actions of God, yes; like your family or mine is supposed to be.

Today’s feast is a reminder of the dignity of human labor. Pope St John Paul the Great said that work is one thing we share, as humans, with God the Creator: 

THROUGH WORK man must earn his daily bread and contribute to the continual advance of science and technology and, above all, to elevating unceasingly the cultural and moral level of the society within which he lives in community with those who belong to the same family. And work means any activity by man, whether manual or intellectual, whatever its nature or circumstances; it means any human activity that can and must be recognized as work, in the midst of all the many activities of which man is capable and to which he is predisposed by his very nature, by virtue of humanity itself. Man is made to be in the visible universe an image and likeness of God himself, and he is placed in it in order to subdue the earth. From the beginning therefore he is called to work. Work is one of the characteristics that distinguish man from the rest of creatures, whose activity for sustaining their lives cannot be called work. Only man is capable of work, and only man works, at the same time by work occupying his existence on earth. Thus work bears a particular mark of man and of humanity, the mark of a person operating within a community of persons. And this mark decides its interior characteristics; in a sense it constitutes its very nature.

We forget this thing: this mark of a person acting within a community. For many of us it is a struggle: we don’t have work, or we want different work, or we think we should be getting paid more, or we can’t earn enough to care for our families. More and more, today, the idea that work at all can be honored is giving rise to multiple layers of class within our society. The “elite” and the “blue color” spurn each other. Within tech companies engineers and operations folks can be seen on opposite sides of a huge divide. In San Francisco, in the wee hours of the morning, it’s interesting to me that the buses heading west bound on their routes are filled with blue color labor, while across the street and headed easterly, are white color folks earning many times more than the blue color folks. They want very little to do with each other, engaged in each their own struggle.

A friend of mine spends her day working with the Homeless of SF. Many of the Homeless lost their apartments because a greedy landlord took advantage of a loophole in the law. The newly rich move into the building, the newly homeless end up on the street. But then the newly rich complain about the newly homeless on the streets and the cycle begins again. My own industry seems to spawn folks who are both afraid of the homeless and quick to call the police. According to Christian Teaching. we have an obligation to bring the Gospel to everyone, rich and poor We have an obligation to heal the wounds in our society as well. We are called  to unite the broken bits into one. This is not an easy task when the sides are not only alienated, but are also made to be at odds with each other.

This is where the Church is needed, I’m convinced, and perhaps not only in SF.  She needs to be an advocate for Justice, and a salve on the societal wounds. St Joseph, as the universal patron of the Church, is needed: respecter of the poor, advocate for the laborer – even one who is unemployed, model of protective care for the family and for the Church, his intercession as we work to resolve these issues in our world is needed. 

Some random trivia: the Main Feast of St Joseph is 19 March, the traditional day (and Pre-schism, for what it’s worth). But that is always in Lent – and sometimes in Holy Week. So it often gets played down and, sometimes, transferred to another period after Easter. In a desire to give St Joseph a proper feast… (quoth the wiki):

Between 1870 and 1955, an additional feast was celebrated in honor of Saint Joseph as Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Patron of the Universal Church, the latter title having been given to him by Pope Pius IX. Originally celebrated on the third Sunday after Easter with an octave, after Divino Afflatu of Saint Pius X (see Reform of the Roman Breviary by Pope Pius X), it was moved to the preceding Wednesday (because Wednesday was the day of the week specifically dedicated to St. Joseph, St. John the Baptist and local patrons). The feast was also retitled The Solemnity of Saint Joseph. This celebration and its accompanying octave were abolished during the modernisation and simplification of rubrics under Pope Pius XII in 1955.
At the same time, Pope Pius XII established an additional Feast of “St. Joseph the Worker”, to be celebrated on 1 May, in order to coincide with the celebration of International Workers’ Day (May Day) in many countries.

This extra feast was a First Class Feast among the Dominicans at least in 1962 (as it is in the Extraordinary Form, still)… not sure what it is now. In the General Roman Calendar, this is an Optional Memorial which means it hasn’t any readings assigned to it. So it takes the readings of the day.

Through many tribulations… Joseph had those. But St Joseph embodies two other virtues that make him difficult to swallow for those who might otherwise celebrate 1 May: silence and patience. The walk to justice is not achieved by stealing from either side to give to the other, but rather by coming together to work for a resolution. Repentance and forgiveness are needed for healing. St Joseph’s patience, prayer, and labor, make a difficult model for us to follow. But he is no different than any other Christian saint in this respect. 

A blessed feast!